The Blackstone LaunchPad program at MSU is eager for student business. The program is a new addition to MSU that officially opened on Nov. 22. It was made possible after MSU received a three year, $2 million grant from the Blackstone Launchpad Charitable Foundation. The program assists students who are looking to turn an idea into an entrepreneurship opportunity.
The director of the Blackstone project at MSU is Rob Irizarry. Irizarry has previous experience working in startups such as CodeMontana, a statewide program that teaches high school students about computer programming and StartupBozeman.com, which he founded to promote Bozeman as a thriving startup community. Because the program is only funded for three years, Irizarry strives to make it self-sustaining so the program can continue after the funding stops.
Irizarry is assisted by student worker Shaheen Karimian. Karimian is a sophomore majoring in business. He is excited to see Blackstone benefit the students and described it as a program that will, “create a new generation of student entrepreneurs at MSU.”
Montana is the fifth state to have the Blackstone Launchpad program. Other states include Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “Blackstone is the largest private equity group in the United States. The CEO has had a house in Twin Bridges for 25 years, so he is very familiar with Montana and how it works,” Irizarry said, “This is a program to support student entrepreneurship across the entire arc of a student’s career and to give them the experience they need.”
The Blackstone LaunchPad office is located on the second floor of the SUB in the Union Market and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The office has a modern design and 31 seats that provide an ample amount of room for students and workers to meet and collaborate.
The process to utilizing Blackstone LaunchPad varies for each student that applies, depending on the individual’s specific idea and how developed the idea is. For initial information about the program a student can walk into the Blackstone LaunchPad office to discuss the process and ask any questions. To officially start the process, a student must visit the website, montana.launchpad.org, where they can sign up and provide basic information regarding their idea. After that, Irizarry and Karimian work with the student through scheduled meetings and help to provide them with any resources they need. When a student has made considerable progress with their program Irizarry will match them with a mentor who can provide more specific help and entrepreneurship advice in their area of interest.
Irizarry emphasized that no matter what part of the process students are in, they are there to help, and at the students pace. “We understand that students are balancing a busy schedule and we are there to help them at whatever pace is comfortable.”
Both Irizarry and Karimian stressed that any student can utilize Blackstone LaunchPad, regardless of major or grade. The program is even open to MSU alumni. “There is no specific college affiliation … I envision a program in which we can have architecture and engineering students who want to start their own firm,” Karimian said.
Karimian and Irizarry have been working on incorporating informative sessions on campus so students can be exposed to the opportunities and resources Blackstone LaunchPad offers. Every Tuesday at 12 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. presentations based on entrepreneurship topics are put on at the Procrastinator Theatre. A follow-up workshop is offered as well.
In addition to the programs at the Procrastinator, there will be a guest entrepreneur in the office every Friday starting Jan. 24. The guest entrepreneur will be there to answer questions, give advice and converse with interested students.
Thus far Blackstone LaunchPad has about 25 students going through the process and about 70 students have come in to talk and familiarize themselves with the program. Irizarry and Karimian aspire to see the program grow. “We hope and encourage all students to come across the whole set of subjects at the university, it has been an interesting cross section and I hope it continues like that,” Irizarry said.